Review: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
Series: Empires of Dust #1
Published by Harper Voyager, Orbit on June 29th 2017
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.
In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.
Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.
The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.
Thanks to Anna Smith Spark for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
With all the new releases out there, sometimes I miss out on reading a book that gets a lot of praise from people I trust, making me wish I had prioritized my reading differently. The Court of Broken Knives was that book for me last year. For whatever reason, I passed over it and read books, some of which I am sure that I did not enjoy nearly as much. In other words, I made a mistake. When the author reached out to me and offered a copy for review, I was both incredibly grateful, and also really excited to finally make reading this book a priority
And I am so glad I did. The Court of Broken Knives is a beautifully written dark and epic story that weaves together through multiple perspectives that are each unique and intriguing. This book does settle pretty solidly in the realm of grimdark and tells the story of an rich empire that has become too used to luxury and has lost site of the threats that may be on its doorstep. It seems that it may now be on the verge of war and change. If you are looking for happy, pretty fantasy, just keep looking, this won’t be the book for you. It has what I consider a realistic view of the world, but I suppose others may label what I consider realistic as dark, grim or cynical. People will not always do the right thing, and honestly, sometimes its not entirely clear what the right thing would be since often it depends on who is telling the story.
A good example of that perspective is Thalia, who is the high priestess of her order. This is not a position achieved through years of contributions and rising in the ranks. It is determined during a ceremony that children given to the order must partake in. It essentially amounts to drawing rocks. The color of the rock will determine if that child is to be executed as a sacrifice to their god, become a priestess or in the rare instance, become the high priestess. The rank of high priestess sounds exciting, until you learn that it is the high priestess that carries out the execution of all the children. And there can only be one high priestess at a time, so once a child who draws the high priestess rock comes of age, the existing high priestess has the honor of being sacrificed to their god. This is a position that could easily be seen as evil from an outsiders perspective, but I really enjoyed Thalia’s character, and quite frankly, see her as anything other than evil.
Marith is a character that can be hard to like. Though liking a character and enjoying reading about them are two entirely different things. I found I did always enjoy reading Marith’s perspective, even if there were times were I may have felt he was a hard person to like and some readers may struggle with that a little. He is “finding himself” to some extent in this book, he has been spoiled in the past, he is young and you can guess how those two things mix. Personally, I found him interesting and I’m still curious how he is going to develop in future books.
I definitely connected most with Thalia and Marith’s perspectives, but there were also two other POV characters. This leads into my only real negative with the book. I did feel my interest waned a bit in a few areas, particularly with Orhann’s perspective. The last POV was Tobias, who I liked more, but I still can’t say he captured my attention as much as either Thalia (who was hands down my favorite POV) or Marith.
In the end, I feel the characters in this book are all an interesting blend of good and bad. Some may lean more one way than the other, but none of them are perfect and they don’t always do the right thing. What you think of them could easily be swayed depending on who is telling the story. I love books like this because I find them less predictable, and it just feels more genuine.